When accused of a crime, the panic often drives one to imagine the worst-case scenarios first. Will I be hanged? Who will take care of the family? Who will feed my dogs? What if I never get to tell my partner I love them? What if the cake I’ve been saving in the fridge gets discovered? Okay, the last one will probably not happen because let’s face it. It is cake. It has been discovered and the plate has been licked clean. But the other concerns are pretty much valid and genuine.
However, let us press pause here. What if the ‘crime’ one has committed does not, in fact, warrant a punishment? The distance between being charged with a crime and receiving a judgment is quite long. There are set procedures and complicated proceedings that could very well just let one free without so much as seeing the face of the jailer. Of course, most of the consequences are dependent on the ‘crime’. For example, if accused of stealing the neighbour’s cat because it was being unreasonably grumpy is the crime, one might get off scot-free by just returning the cat and apologizing to the neighbour. There is no point in apologizing to the cat – they are mean and will hold that grudge till eternity. On the other hand, if the crime is a serious one like murdering the boss because he was in one of his moods does not quite get the person free by just apologizing. In such cases, the procedures kick in.
When charged with a crime, the accused will have to first be subjected to a trial to prove their guilt or innocence. Following this, if proven guilty, they are convicted of the crime and are given the punishment. If the accused is certain of the fact that they are innocent of the charges and the verdict is wrong, they might appeal to the appellate court where the proceedings of the trial court are reviewed. Let us view the differences between these proceedings.
Difference Between Trial Court and Appellate Court in Tabular Form
|PARAMETERS||TRIAL COURT||APPELLATE COURT|
|Definition||A trial court is one where all criminal and civil cases are first tried.||An appellate court is one where the cases that have already been tried are reviewed.|
|Evidence presentation||There is presentation of all evidence and witnesses needed to convict an alleged offender of their crime.||There is no presentation of evidence of witnesses. The proceedings of the case in the trial court are reviewed here.|
|Time limit||There is no particular time limit for the cases tried in the trial court.||There is a time limit for the cases reviewed in the appellate court.|
|Nature of evidence||Fresh or new evidence is accepted in the trial court during the proceedings.||New evidence is not accepted when an appeal is made to the appellate court.|
|Judgment||In the trial court, judgment is provided by both the jury and the judge.||In the appellate court, the judgment is provided by the panel of judges presiding.|
|Facts presented||In the trial court, evidence and witnesses are presented to prove the innocence or guilt of the person charged of the crime.||In the appellate court, the trial transcripts, reports claiming the legal mistakes of the trial court and oral arguments by the appellate lawyers are presented.|
|Consequences||The judgment in a trial court affects the only the defense and the prosecution.||The judgment in the appellate court affects more than just the defense and the prosecution. It also affects the whole system of conduction of the case at the trial court.|
|Reversal of judgment||The trial court does not reverse the judgment once the verdict is passed.||If the appellate court finds that there has indeed been a mistake in the proceedings at the trial court, they have the power to reverse the judgment.|
|Judgment||The jury establishes if the charged person or the alleged offender is in fact guilty or innocent. The judge then passes the sentence.||The panel of judges discuss the case and vote on whether there has been a legal mistake in the proceedings at the trial court. They form a draft of their opinion about their decision.|
What is Trial Court?
When a person is charged with a crime, they are first ordered to the trial court to prove their innocence. Here, the alleged offender has a defence attorney and they face off against the prosecution. There is the presentation of evidence and witnesses to prove the innocence or the guilt of the offender by the defence or the prosecution respectively.
At the trial court, the main objective is to resolve the disputed facts. Whether it be a case of the state against a defendant or a case of one person accusing another. In both cases, there is a dispute of a fact. For example, in the former case, it could be a case of murder and the state could blame the defendant. In the latter case, it could be a case of medical negligence and the case could be between the defendant – the doctor and the plaintiff – the patient. In either case, the trial court must observe the law and all proceedings must take place by the law.
Once the evidence and witnesses are presented, the jury deliberates the presented data and reaches a verdict. This verdict could either be in favour of the defendant or against them. If in their favour, they can walk free of the charge. But if they have been found guilty, they are said to have been convicted of the crime. They are then given a sentence or punishment by the judge. This sentence depends on the crime committed. It could either be a penalty fee that has to be paid or imprisonment.
If the convicted offender is indeed guilty of the crime, they have to accept the sentence. If they are certain of their innocence and convinced that they have been wrongly convicted, they have the option to appeal to the appellate court. An appeal to the appellate court can even be made by the prosecution or the plaintiff if they find the verdict against them. In both cases, there has to be valid proof of a legal mistake in the proceedings at the trial court.
What is Appellate Court?
The appellate court is more like a review board. Here, the case presented is not fresh. It is a mere reviewal of the proceedings that took place in the trial court where the case was first presented.
It is not only that the judgment can be appealed if it does not satisfy the defendant. Simply because the judge did not rule in one’s favour does not make the case eligible for appeal. There must also be definitive proof that there was something amiss in the proceedings at the trial court. Only then i.e. if the party can prove that there was a legal mistake in the proceedings, can an appeal be filed at the appellate court. The appellate court only reviews cases that have a legal mistake. They do not review cases that have factual mistakes. In simpler words, an appellate court considers if the trial court has misinterpreted a legal statute or a previous decision. They assess the verdict of the trial court and see if they have made errors in evaluating the evidence. They do not hold trials anew of the same case or even accept the submission of new evidence, even if the evidence came to discovery after the judgment of the trial court.
Unlike the trial court, the appellate court has no jury. They only have a panel of judges that carefully examine the proceedings that took place at the trial court. For this purpose, the judges read the trial transcripts and the legal briefs consisting of the claims of the alleged legal mistakes of the trial court. They then listen to oral arguments presented by the appellate lawyers. The appellate lawyers spend an excessive amount of time preparing their arguments because they usually do not last longer than an hour. The appellate court is time-bound and the judgment is expected to be passed within a specific period. Post the oral arguments, the judges contemplate the presented facts and vote on the outcome. They also give a brief draft that explains their reason for the decision.
If the judges determine that there has indeed been a legal mistake in the proceedings at the trial court, they have the power to reverse the judgment.
Difference Between Trial Court and Appellate Court in Points
The main differences between trial courts and appellate courts are as follows:
- The trial court is where all criminal and civil cases are first tried. If there is proof that the proceedings or the verdict at the trial court are unsatisfactory or wrong, the accused might appeal to the appellate court to review the proceedings.
- The trial court is where the evidence is presented along with witnesses to either convict the accused or set them free. In the appellate court, the only goal is to figure out if indeed there has been wrongdoing in the proceedings at the trial court i.e. if there has been a legal mistake in the proceedings at the trial court.
- Evidence is presented only in the trial court. Even if new evidence has been discovered after the verdict has been passed by the trial court, it cannot be presented to the appellate court.
- The trial court always comes first. Only after a case has been tried at the trial court can the appeal be made to the appellate court. There is another catch here too. There should be definitive evidence of a legal mistake in the proceedings at the trial court.
- There is no time limit for the proceedings at the trial court. This is not the case at the appellate court. There is a specific time limit for the cases in the appellate court.
- In the trial court, there is usually a jury and a judge presiding during the proceedings. In the appellate court, there is no jury. There is a panel of judges to review the proceedings of the trial court.
- In the trial court, there is the presentation of evidence and witness by both parties to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendant. In the appellate court, there is the presentation of the trial transcripts, the report of the legal mistakes at the trial court and oral arguments by the appellate lawyers.
- The verdict at the trial court affects the person convicted of the crime and the prosecutors. In the appellate court, however, the verdict would not only affect the parties involved but also the members involved in the prior judgment.
- The trial court cannot reverse the verdict once passed. In the appellate court, if they find fault with the proceedings at the trial court, they have the power to reverse the judgment.
- In the trial court, the jury gives the verdict of guilty or innocent and the judge passes the sentence. In the appellate court, the judges vote on the decision and come up with a draft explaining their decision.
Ultimately, the trial and appellate courts strive to do what’s right. The trial courts can be compared to the classrooms with teachers resolving a matter (most times a fight between the students) between students. The appellate courts could then be compared to the dissatisfied student approaching the headmaster for further evaluation of the judgment passed by the teacher. However, in this case, there is rarely proof of a legal mistake in the classroom. It is only a disgruntled child and in worse cases, the child’s parents. Either way, the job of the headmaster is only to review all that the teacher discussed with the students, look for any faults in their judgment and pacify the student and parents. Similarly, the appellate courts attempt to resolve the legal errors made at the trial court and reach a judgment that is sound and right.